"Chile crisp is the garlicky, spicy, crunchy condiment that somehow works in everything from noodles to ice cream to peanut brittle."
Cathy Erway - Taste
Pardon the pun but this is 'hot' - in the sense that just about every recipe, blog, chef, food writer I found raved about this and said things like they put it on everything.
It's one of those things I gleaned from Nigella's latest book and TV series - Cook, Eat, Repeat. Addictive is another word that is frequently used with reference to it, so I'm just going to do a quick introduction. Then you can go search the supermarket shelves. Because in spite of the fact that there are recipes out there for making your own - e.g. on the Chilli pepper madness website, it seems that really the brand shown above is the only brand that is any good. The brand is Lao gan ma which apparently means 'old godmother' and it is one of those rags to riches stories.
In Guizhou Province in China a poor lady's husband died and so to support her two sons she started making rice tofu which, first of all she sold at her sons' school and then in a small shop. In this shop she also sold noodles dressed with her home-made crispy chilli sauce. Eventually she realised that the people were after the sauce not the noodles, and so in 1994 she stopped making the noodles and concentrated on the sauce - and some other condiments too. In 1996 she set up a factory with just 40 workers, and it was such a success that she is now one of the riches women in China and her products are sold throughout the world - they are on your local Woolworths and Coles shelves, although I'm not sure whether this particular sauce/oil is one of them. But go to an Asian supermarket and you will see it walking off the shelves. It's not expensive $2 or $3 in the supermarkets. The lady was illiterate but obviously had street smarts and an entrepreneurial streak. Of course her sons help her these days. A formidable looking woman don't you think? There are now a whole range of other sauces and condiments. I believe the black bean sauce is good too.
And yes it has monosodium glutamate in it, but that's what gives it the umami kick. According to one site it is a "combination of chilis, garlic, onions, fermented soybeans and peanuts" and it's really the crunchiness of the peanuts, garlic and onions that is the thing.
I'm really not sure how hot it is. I think what is sold in Coles is a hot chilli sauce, not this one. Various sites said it was not that hot, but I'm guessing I could not use it in this house. Maybe I'll give it a go next time I'm either at Doncaster, Templestowe or Doncaster East - our local Chinese enclaves. I was at Doncaster East today and for the first time noticed that the Pines shopping centre there now has an Asian supermarket and also Coles is selling various Chinese vegetables that I have not seen there before.
To start you off on the craze you could probably do worse than try these Lao Gan Ma noodles from the Woks of Life website. I have to say they look pretty good.
Almost all of the writers I found said however, that you can use it in just about anything. One went so far as to say that she had not found anything which did not match it perfectly. And some of the options are unusual to say the least - like the ice cream that is now a favourite in one of New York's 'hot' restaurants, although the idea apparently stemmed from China's 'dark cuisine', described as "an internet subculture of deliberately terrible ideas ... where amateur cooks make and post bizarre combinations of unappetizing foods."
Who knew there were such things. However, the reporter said:
"this reporter spooned some of Gao’s chile crisp over a bowl of vanilla ice cream. It worked. Like a squiggle of hot honey on wings or pizza, the heat and umami of the sauce add serious umph to a scoop of Haagen-Dazs, while the ice cream boosts the fruity flavor of the chiles and slight citrus notes of the peppercorns. The occasional crunch from a shard of chile is a nice bonus." Max Falkowitz - Food and Wine
Hot and cold in one mouthful. You could see how it might work.